Food for thought Issues for action

Improving nutrition across many regions of the globe hinges upon increasing fruit and vegetable intake as key constituents of healthy diets. Increasing consumption could lead to a win–win scenario for the health of both people and the planet if it is accompanied by concerted efforts and investments to increase production and productivity in the sector. At the same time, however, such efforts need to decrease the environmental footprint, improve harvesting, handling, storage and distribution to reduce loss and waste, maintain quality (particularly nutritive) and increase shelf-life, and educate consumers on the health benefits to be derived from increased consumption of fruit and vegetables.

Every country faces unique challenges based on the environmental, economic and social circumstances in which its fruit and vegetable sector operates. Low consumption, however, continues to be an issue, even in countries where availability is not a constraint. This is mainly related to the affordability of fruit and vegetables. Increasing productivity could reduce the resource intensity of production and lower the costs to consumers and the planet. Reducing loss and waste in value chains can also reduce the environmental footprint and, if properly implemented, save consumers money. Conducive policy grounded in data, partnerships and capacity development will be key to promoting the sustainable production and consumption of fresh produce.

© FAO/Paul Mundy
© FAO/Paul Mundy


Public policy has the power to influence all levels of the fruit and vegetable value chain, thereby shifting production and consumption patterns. These policies might address:

  • Creation of a healthy food environment by making options for consuming more fresh produce easier for consumers. This can include awareness-raising campaigns designed to change consumer behaviour, together with the various interventions listed below.
  • Formulation of food-based dietary guidelines that promote the consumption of fruit and vegetables as part of a diverse and healthy diet.
  • Use of public procurement policies that promote healthy diets.
  • Integration of nutrition in school curricula and school meals programmes based on the local and smallholder agriculture production to promote life-long positive nutrition behaviours.
  • Subsidies and tax incentives for the production (including sustainable seed provision) and marketing of fruit and vegetables.
  • Creation of an enabling environment that supports small-scale producers in supply chains and equitable and sustainable contract-farming arrangements.
  • Promotion of biodiversity to enhance nutritious diets by encouraging the usage of locally adapted varieties, landraces, wild crops and indigenous food species.
  • Better management and reduction of pesticides in production, supported by effective regulatory processes and knowledge about non-toxic plant-protection products and measures. It is also critical to prevent the illegal trade and use of unregistered pesticides.
  • Support for measures to enable the exchange of planting materials among countries.
  • Ensuring that policies facilitate the trade of safe food in order to increase access to fresh produce in all locations and during all seasons.
  • Reducing food loss in supply chains. In low-income countries, policy options might include strengthening the capacity of producer organizations and increasing investments in infrastructure – roads, potable water, packing houses, cold-chain development – to support postharvest handling and distribution operations.
  • Reducing food waste in supply chains. In high-income countries, where food waste is an issue, possible policy options might include adjusting marketing standards for fresh fruit and vegetables, and supporting their gleaning in fields for redistribution by food banks.
  • Support to research, development and innovation toward enhancing efficiency and sustainability in fruit and vegetable value chains.

Data to underpin policy development

Innovation and investments in the sector have the potential to transform fruit and vegetable food systems in ways that could sustainably boost productivity and enable more equitable consumption.

Successful policies and investments require data. A holistic and integrated policy agenda informed by data at each step of the value chain will help to balance supply and demand and to combat malnutrition. Requirements include:

  • More specific production data for a better understanding of the contributions of small-scale producers.
  • Data on where losses and waste in supply chains are most significant (and what causes them). This would indicate the level and scale of technologies needed, guide remedial actions, and help ensure affordability of the fresh produce.
  • Research and conservation of indigenous fruit and vegetables, especially those that are not annual crops, as they can contribute to improving diet quality by providing nutrient-dense foods while supporting climate-change adaptation.

Multi-sectoral approaches and partnerships

The complexity of the fruit and vegetable sector necessitates multi-sectorial approaches among governments, the private sector, civil society, academia and research institutions to encourage and support innovation, technology and infrastructure development. These approaches involve coordination and leveraging private- and public-sector resources toward strengthening the sector. Areas of collaboration might include the following.

  • Public–private sector collaboration to develop stronger communication and marketing approaches in support of increasing consumption, generating new knowledge on fruit and vegetables, and promoting behaviour change.
  • Promoting research and development structures and alliances that enable innovation within the fruit and vegetable sector to reduce food loss and waste, e.g., the development and use of active and intelligent packaging to reduce spoilage and alert consumers of spoilage.
    © FAO/Alessia Pierdomenico
    © FAO/Alessia Pierdomenico
  • Working with civil-society and producer organizations, and forming alliances to build and strengthen global value chains and reducing food loss and waste in supply systems.

Capacity development

Capacity development of stakeholders at all levels of the supply system is critical to assuring the safety, quality, shelf-life and availability of fresh produce in local markets. This will necessitate:

  • Capacity development through female and male farmer training on integrating nutrition in good agricultural practices through farmer field schools, demonstration-based training and the use of farmer-to-farmer mentoring. The topics should include integrated pest management, sustainability and food safety along the value chain.
  • Capacity development of small-scale producers to enable more direct access to markets and direct farmer–consumer schemes and to facilitate their inclusion in participatory guarantee systems to enhance marketability.
  • Standards, compliance control, and training and education of all stakeholders along the food supply chain on how to produce, harvest, handle, package and transport fruit and vegetables, while maintaining their quality, assuring their safety and reducing loss and waste to meet market requirements.
  • Establishment of capacity development and local selection and breeding programmes designed to promote biodiversity in the fruit and vegetable sector, and formulation of food-based dietary guidelines, social and behaviour change communication strategies, enabled by research.


The International Year of Fruits and Vegetables in 2021 provides countries and actors throughout the food system considerable opportunity to act and make a difference within the sector, as well as to promote healthy diets for adequate nutrition. This will facilitate progress in moving toward a holistic approach that will leave no one behind, contribute to eliminating hunger and all other forms of malnutrition toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.